Aletho News


A life of uncertainty under occupation


Nasri Sabarna
International Solidarity Movement | May 13, 2013

Beit Ummar, Occupied Palestine – At 3am on 13th May, Nasri Sabarna of Beit Ummar woke up to the sound of Israeli soldiers kicking down his front door. The sound of them shooting tear gas, rubber bullets and sound bombs at people passing his house on their way to the Mosque for morning prayer also woke up his 3 year old granddaughter, whose crying in turn woke up the rest of the Sabarna household.

The 6 jeeps full of soldiers had come to arrest his 21 year old son Achmed – for the fifth time. Achmed is a 21 year old student who has yet to be charged with any crime. As Achmed was not home at the time the soldiers invaded his home, the whole family were ordered to go to the police station in the illegal settlement of Gush Etzyon the following morning at 9am. It was here that Achmed was taken into interrogation. Despite not being guilty of committing any crime, his father does not expect to see him anytime soon. Achmed has already been forced to miss two years of university because of similar incidents, which have cost his family a lot of money – Achmed was arrested for the first time when he was 13 years old.

His father, Nasri is no stranger to the Israeli culture of injustice practiced against Palestinians. At the age of 13, he himself was arrested by Israeli soldiers without charge and imprisoned for 10 months. His whole life has been shaped by the occupation around him. He remembers seeing Israeli bulldozers demolish three historic homes in his village of Beit Ummar at the age of 10 – such events inspired him to become politically active. In 1978 he established the first student council in Palestine, going on later to become mayor of his home village of Beit Ummar. In Israel’s bid to crush any Palestinian political organisation, Nasri was imprisoned for 6 years between 1988 and 1994 for the sole reason of being a member of the political party Fatah.

Nasri’s main concern now is the effect that Israel’s systematic use of administrative detention, harrassment and abuse will have on the younger generations of Palestinians born under occupation. When he was mayor, 40 soldiers broke into his house and destroyed most of their belongings. They wore balaclavas as they did so and terrified his youngest son Abdullah.

Over the following weeks Abdullah’s teachers told his father that his mood had changed, he had become aggressive, argumentative and unusually violent. Nasri sought the help of psychologists from Medicenes Sans Frontiers who worked with Abdullah regularly. He told the psychologists of times where soldiers had lined him and his classmates up when walking home from school and made them jump over their guns before beating them.

The psychological treatment helped Abdullah, who is now ten, to deal with such issues and his behaviour is now back to normal. But Nasri worries for those hundreds of thousands of Palestinian children who are not so lucky to receive treatment. A combination of abuse and detentions coupled with the daily destruction of homes, land, resources and opportunities for young people in the West Bank diminishes any hope they may have for the future and ultimately leads them to seek out revenge through violence.

Nasri emphasised that this is not a struggle between religions, nor are different religious groups inherently incapable of coexisting in harmony. Colonialism and Zionism are the driving forces behind the brutality of the occupation and only granting Palestinians their freedom can bring around real peace. To summarise, Nasri said “No nation can just get rid of another nation.”

May 13, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Comments Off on A life of uncertainty under occupation

Church of Scotland Makes Erratic U-Turn on Just-Released Report

By Richard Edmondson | War and Politics | May 13, 2013

The name of the report is/was ‘The Inheritance of Abraham? A Report on the ‘Promised Land.’” Authored by the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, it basically came to the conclusion that the Bible accords the Jews no privileged claim over the land of Palestine, nor does it provide any justification for the ongoing occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the blockade of Gaza, or the forced displacement of Palestinians from their homes and lands.

The report was posted at the Church of Scotland’s website—ah, but regrettably only temporarily. It has since mysteriously disappeared, to be replaced by a statement that includes the following:

The Church of Scotland and representatives of the Jewish Community in Scotland and the United Kingdom, held useful discussions facilitated by the Council of Christians and Jews this afternoon, Thursday 8 May. We agreed that the drafting of the report published by the Church and Society Council for discussion at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has given cause for concern and misunderstanding of its position and requires a new introduction to set the context for the report and give clarity about some of the language used.

Did the church cave in to Jewish pressure? This appears to be the case, although the report apparently is to be discussed at the church’s upcoming General Assembly, later this month.

I first became aware of “The Inheritance of Abraham?” after reading an article about it on Wednesday of last week. Intrigued, I went to the church’s website to access the full report. Fortunately, I had the foresight to download it and save it, for when I returned to the site on Saturday, lo and behold it was nowhere to be found. The statement above, dated May 9, 2013, seems to promise a re-posting at some point, though with “a new introduction to set the context for the report”—which presumably means the old introduction will be gone, and that there may be other changes in the original wording as well.

However, you can go here and read the report in its entirety and with the original wording intact. You will find that it cites passages in Genesis—specifically 12:7, 13:15-17, 15:18-21, and 17:7-8—which have God promising the land to Abraham and his descendants without any conditions attached. Or as the report phrases it, “There are no ‘so long as…’ or ‘until…’ clauses in them” and “alone they can be read to show that God promises the land to the Israelites unconditionally.”

But the report, in the next section, goes on to note “a second view,” which, among other things, says we should read “the Pentateuch in the light of the prophets.” In this view, “the land is a gift, not a right, and one which brings with it obligations, most particularly to practice justice and to dwell equitably with the stranger.” The report cites the prophet Jonah as an example.

The book of Jonah is a key text for understanding the Hebrew Bible’s promise of the land to Abraham and his descendants. Written at a time when Jewish people were turning inwards, the book presents Johan as a Jewish nationalist to drive home the point: God’s universal, inclusive love is for all. God in Jonah is merciful, gracious, a liberator of the oppressed and sinful who looks for just living. The people of God even include the hated Assyrians. So Johan suggests a new theology of the land, because God was not confined within the land of Israel, but also embraced the land of Assyria.

And then, of course, there are the New Testament and the words of Jesus, whose teachings the report describes as “inclusive,” not only in their own right, but also in Christ’s view of the Old Testament prophets—a view that is offered in Luke 4:25-30… along with the reaction it provoked among the Jews of Nazareth at the time:

“But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

By expressing the view that God had love in his heart for others than just Jews, Jesus seems, then, to have caused feelings of jealousy and anger amongst his Jewish listeners that day. The report goes on to observe:

Jesus offered a radical critique of Jewish specialness and exclusivism, but the people of Nazareth were not ready for it. John’s gospel speaks of Jesus being lifted up and drawing all people to himself (John 12:32). Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple means not just that the Temple needs to be reformed, but that the Temple is finished. Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 makes it clear that God is no longer confined to the place of the Temple. Temple and land give way to a new understanding so Paul can say that all the barriers that separated Jews from the rest are down—“there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male or female in Christ Jesus.” The new ‘place’ where God is found is wherever people gather in the name of Jesus.

Or in other words, “the promise to Abraham about land is fulfilled through the impact of Jesus, not by restoration of land to the Jewish people” and “no part of the New Testament gives any support to a political state of Israel beyond that to any other state.” Thus, the requirements for justice and the protection of human rights apply to each land, and to every inhabitant in the land.

Promises about the land of Israel were never intended to be taken literally, or as applying to a defined geographical territory. They are a way of speaking about how to live under God so that justice and peace reign, the weak and poor are protected, the stranger is included, and all have a share in the community and a contribution to make to it. The ‘promised land’ in the Bible is not a place, so much as a metaphor of how things ought to be among the people of God. This ‘promised land; can be found—or built—anywhere.

The report also includes several quotes from Kairos Palestine, a document published in 2009 by Palestinian Christians and which I have commented upon previously. Among the quotes from Kairos Palestine we find this one:

Our land is God’s land, as is the case with all countries in the world. It is holy inasmuch as God is present in it, for God alone is holy and sanctifier. It is the duty of those of us who live here, to respect the will of God for this land. It is our duty to liberate it from the evil of injustice and war. It is God’s land and therefore it must be a land of reconciliation, peace and love. This is indeed possible. God has put us here as two peoples, and God gives us the capacity, if we have the will, to live together and establish in it justice and peace, making it in reality God’s land: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it” (Psalm 24:1).

And also this one:

We believe that our land has a universal mission. In this universality, the meaning of the promises, of the land, of the election, of the people of God, open up to include all of humanity, starting from all the peoples of this land

And this one:

Our Church points to the Kingdom, which cannot be tied to any earthly kingdom. Jesus said before Pilate that he was indeed a king but “my kingdom is not from this world.” St. Paul says: “The Kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:7). Therefore religion cannot favour or support any unjust political regime, but must rather promote justice, truth and human dignity.”

So does the modern day state of Israel meet these conditions? Hardly. And the report says as much.

From this last perspective, the desire of many in the state of Israel to acquire the land of Palestine for the Jewish people is wrong. The fact that the land is currently being taken by settlement expansion, the separation barrier, house clearance, theft and force makes it doubly wrong to seek biblical sanction for this.

Church leaders from South Africa, following a visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in the autumn of 2012, observed similarities to the concluding years of the apartheid regime in South Africa. They concur with proposals to consider economic and political measures involving boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions against the state of Israel focused on illegal settlements, as the best way of convincing Israeli politicians and voters that what is happening is wrong, and that Christians around the world should not contribute in any way to the viability of illegal settlements. This raises particular questions for the Church of Scotland as we seek to respond to the question: “What does the Lord require of you…?”

And the conclusion reached is:

From this examination of the various views in the Bible about the relation of land to the people of God, it can be concluded that Christians should not be supporting any claims by Jewish or any other people, to an exclusive or even privileged divine right to possess particular territory. It is a misuse of the Bible to use it as a topographic guide to settle contemporary conflicts over land. In the Bible, God’s promises extend in hope to all land and people. Focused as they are on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, these promises call for a commitment in every place to justice in a spirit of reconciliation.

The report then goes on to assert that “the current situation is characterized by an inequality in power and therefore reconciliation can only be possible if the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the blockade of Gaza, are ended.” Note: it does not say that Israel has no right to exist, although this is the interpretation being given by a number of Jews, some of whom seem quite upset over the whole thing.

So let’s cut to the chase, and see what some of these people have been saying about the report.

“Scottish Jews said they were ‘outraged’ by a recent Church of Scotland paper which denies Jews any special claim to the land of Israel.” So begins a report in the JTA dated May 3. The article makes reference to a statement issued by the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, who denounce the report as “an outrage to everything that interfaith dialogue stands for”, insisting as well that it “reads like an Inquisition-era polemic against Jews and Judaism.”

In the opinion of the Scottish Council, the report also “closes the door on meaningful dialogue,” and quite naturally we find a demand that the Church of Scotland “withdraw it ahead of its forthcoming General Assembly.”

Interestingly, the Council’s statement additionally frets about “the arrogance of telling the Jewish people how to interpret Jewish texts,” although of course there are plenty of Jews telling Christians how to interpret the New Testament, not to mention those who have lambasted the Gospels as “anti-Semitic.”

Israel Hayom, the Israeli newspaper owned by Sheldon Adelson, calls the report “a culmination of more than a decade of increasingly strident anti-Zionism and pro-Palestinian activism by the church, especially by its local Palestinian Christian chapters,” while the always amusing Algemeiner characterizes the Church of Scotland as waging a “war on Judaism,” and committing a “moral crime” to boot, while the church’s report, Algemeiner asserts, is “immersed…in anti-Semitic clichés and malicious distortions of Jewish theology.”

Also, Israel’s ambassador to Britain has gotten in on the act. A later report by the JTA, dated May 11, quotes Ambassador Daniel Taub as saying, “This report not only plays into extremist political positions, but negates and belittles the deeply held Jewish attachment to the land of Israel in a way which is truly hurtful.” Taub reportedly made the comment over Israel’s Army Radio.

Not to be outmatched by these pikers, the ADL’s Abe Foxman has called the report “stunningly offensive,” as well as a “classic rejection of Judaism.”

“By brazenly dismissing Jewish self-understanding of its own bible—the Torah, the Church of Scotland has disregarded nearly five decades of progress in Jewish-Christian theological dialog by promoting religious principles which deny the legitimacy of Judaism and were used for centuries to justify the brutal repression of Jews,” Foxman goes on to add.

Will all this pressure result in a complete capitulation on the part of the Church of Scotland? Will we see the report fundamentally altered, perhaps beyond recognition, or even withdrawn altogether? Hard to say, but you’ll recall I began this article by quoting from a statement on the whole matter which has been posted on the Church of Scotland’s website. The statement, I mentioned, replaces the report itself, which has since been taken down. What I neglected to say is that this is a joint statement, signed not only by the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland, but also four Jewish organizations: Here is the rest of it:

In particular the Church of Scotland needs to be explicit about some things that are implicit policies of the Church:

  • There is no change in the Church of Scotland’s long held position of the right of Israel to exist.
  • The Church condemns all violence and acts of terrorism, where ever they happen in the world.
  • The concern of the Church about the injustices faced by the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territories remain firm, but that concern should not be misunderstood as questioning the right of the State of Israel to exist.
  • That the Church condemns all things that create a culture of anti Semitism.

There is an equal sense of concern amongst both communities for justice and peace for all the people of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Sitting round the table and listening to each other more deeply has created a real opportunity for both communities to better understand each other and that this report now becomes a catalyst for continued and growing conversation.

The two communities have agreed to work together both here and in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories to continue what was a very positive dialogue.

Church and Society Council, Church of Scotland
Scottish Council of Jewish Communities
Board of Deputies of British Jews
Movement for Reform Judaism
Rabbis for Human Rights

Note the dictatorial tone: “the Church of Scotland needs to be explicit…”

One might ask: Or else what?


Of course it isn’t only the Jewish media who have weighed in on the issue. Here is a report from Iran’s Press TV, which includes an interview with Anglican Vicar Stephen Sizer:

May 13, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular, Video | , , , | 4 Comments

How Elites and Media Minimize Dissent and Bury Truth

By Paul Craig Roberts | IPE | May 10, 2013

Over the last several years I have watched the rise of an important new intellect on the American scene. Ron Unz, publisher of The American Conservative, has demonstrated time and again the extraordinary ability to reexamine settled issues and show that the accepted conclusion was incorrect.

One of his early achievements was to dispose of the myth of immigrant crime by demonstrating that “Hispanics have approximately the same crime rates as whites of the same age and gender.” You can imagine the uproar, but Unz won the debate.

Unz provoked and prevailed in another controversy when he concluded that Mexican-Americans have approximately the same innate intelligence as whites, with their lower IQs being due to transitory socio-economic deprivation.

He next surprised by showing the connection between the declining real value of the minimum wage (about one-third less than in the 1960s) and immigration. Americans cannot survive on one-third less minimum income than four decades ago, and the unfilled jobs are taken by Hispanics who live many to the room. A higher minimum wage, Unz pointed out, would cure the illegal immigration problem as American citizens would fill the jobs.

I wrote about some of Unz’s remarkable findings. One of my favorites is his comparison of the responsiveness of the Chinese and US governments to their publics. I found his conclusion convincing that the authoritarian one-party Chinese government was more responsive to the Chinese people than democratic two-party Washington is to the American people.

The person is rare who can take on such controversial issues in such a professional way that he wins the admiration even of his critics. In my opinion, Ron Unz is a national resource. He has established online libraries of important periodicals and magazines from the pre-Internet era, information that otherwise essentially would be lost. I have not met him, but he donates to this site and is an independent thinker free of The Matrix.

Unz’s latest article, “Our American Pravda,” is a striking account of the failure of media, regulatory, and national security organizations and subsequent coverups that leave the public deceived. Unz uses the Iraq war as one example:

“The circumstances surrounding our Iraq War demonstrate this, certainly ranking it among the strangest military conflicts of modern times. The 2001 attacks in America were quickly ascribed to the radical Islamists of al-Qaeda, whose bitterest enemy in the Middle East had always been Saddam Hussein’s secular Baathist regime in Iraq. Yet through misleading public statements, false press leaks, and even forged evidence such as the “yellowcake” documents, the Bush administration and its neoconservative allies utilized the compliant American media to persuade our citizens that Iraq’s nonexistent WMDs posed a deadly national threat and required elimination by war and invasion. Indeed, for several years national polls showed that a large majority of conservatives and Republicans actually believed that Saddam was the mastermind behind 9/11 and the Iraq War was being fought as retribution. Consider how bizarre the history of the 1940s would seem if America had attacked China in retaliation for Pearl Harbor.

“True facts were easily available to anyone paying attention in the years after 2001, but most Americans do not bother and simply draw their understanding of the world from what they are told by the major media, which overwhelmingly—almost uniformly—backed the case for war with Iraq; the talking heads on TV created our reality. Prominent journalists across the liberal and conservative spectrum eagerly published the most ridiculous lies and distortions passed on to them by anonymous sources, and stampeded Congress down the path to war.

“The result was what my late friend Lt. Gen. Bill Odom rightly called the “greatest strategic disaster in United States history.” American forces suffered tens of thousands of needless deaths and injuries, while our country took a huge step toward national bankruptcy [and a police state]. Economics Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz and others have estimated that with interest the total long-term cost of our two recent wars may reach as high as $5 or $6 trillion, or as much as $50,000 per American household, mostly still unpaid. Meanwhile, economist Edward Wolff has calculated that the Great Recession and its aftermath cut the personal net worth of the median American household to $57,000 in 2010 from a figure nearly twice as high three years earlier. Comparing these assets and liabilities, we see that the American middle class now hovers on the brink of insolvency, with the cost of our foreign wars being a leading cause.

“But no one involved in the debacle ultimately suffered any serious consequences, and most of the same prominent politicians and highly paid media figures who were responsible remain just as prominent and highly paid today. For most Americans, reality is whatever our media organs tell us, and since these have largely ignored the facts and adverse consequences of our wars in recent years, the American people have similarly forgotten. Recent polls show that only half the public today believes that the Iraq War was a mistake.”

Unz covers a number of cases of criminality, treason, and coverups at high levels of government and points out that “these dramatic, well-documented accounts have been ignored by our national media.” One reason for “this wall of uninterest” is that both parties are complicit and thus equally eager to bury the facts.

Unz is raising the question of the efficacy of democracy. Does the way democracy works in America provide any more self-rule than in undemocratic regimes? He offers this example:

“Most of the Americans who elected Barack Obama in 2008 intended their vote as a total repudiation of the policies and personnel of the preceding George W. Bush administration. Yet once in office, Obama’s crucial selections—Robert Gates at Defense, Timothy Geither at Treasury, and Ben Bernake at the Federal Reserve—were all top Bush officials, and they seamlessly continued the unpopular financial bailouts and foreign wars begun by his predecessor, producing what amounted to a third Bush term.”

In an article not long ago, I raised the issue whether Americans live in The Matrix with their perceptions and thoughts controlled by disinformation as in George Orwell’s 1984.

Unz adds to this perspective. He tells the story of Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky’s plan to transform Russia into a make-believe two-party state complete with heated battles fought on divisive and symbolic issues. Behind the scenes the political elites would orchestrate the political battles between the parties with the purpose of keeping the population divided and funneling popular dissatisfaction into meaningless dead-end issues. In such a system, self-serving power prevails. After describing Berezovsky’s plot, Unz asks if Berezovsky got his idea from observing the American political scene.

Thinking further about the propagandistic nature of the US media, Unz writes:

“Individuals from less trusting societies are often surprised at the extent to which so many educated Americans tend to believe whatever the media tells them and ignore whatever it does not, placing few constraints on even the most ridiculous propaganda. For example, a commentator on my article described the East German media propaganda he had experienced prior to Reunification as being in many respects more factual and less totally ridiculous than what he now saw on American cable news shows. One obvious difference was that Western media was so globally dominant during that era that the inhabitants of the German Democratic Republic inevitably had reasonable access to a contrasting second source of information, forcing their media to be much more cautious in its dishonesty, while today almost any nonsense uniformly supported by the MSNBC-to-FoxNews spectrum of acceptable opinion remains almost totally unquestioned by most Americans.”

Unz’s view of the US media as propagandists for power is consistent with that of John Pilger, one of the last remaining real journalists who refuses to serve power, and with Gerald Celente, who sums up the sordid American media in one word–”presstitutes.” I know from my own media experience that an independent print and TV media no longer exists in the West. The American media is a tightly controlled disinformation ministry.

Those few Americans who are free of the constraints imposed by dogmas on their ability to think and to process information have a huge responsibility for their small number. The assault on the rule of law began in the last years of the Clinton regime, but the real destruction of the US Constitution, the basis for the United States, was achieved by the neoconservative George W. Bush and Obama regimes. Wars without declarations by Congress, torture in violation of both US and international law, war crimes in violation of the Nuremberg standard, indefinite detention and assassination of US citizens without due process of law, universal spying on US citizens without warrants, federalization of state and local police now armed with military weapons and uniforms, detention centers, “your papers, please” (without the Gestapo “please”) not only at airports but also on highways, streets, bus terminals, train stations, and at sporting events.

On May 5 Obama gave the commencement address at Ohio State University. No doubt that the graduates thought that they were being honored by being addressed by the world’s greatest tyrant.

Obama told the graduating class, to applause, that their obligation as citizens is to trust the government. Outdoing George Orwell’s Big Brother, Obama said in public to a graduating class of a great university without shame: “You have grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as . . . some sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems; some of these same voices also doing their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices.”

Listen to my propaganda, not to those constitutional experts, legal authorities, and critics of me, the First Black President, who tell you to beware of unaccountable government. Due process is decided by the demands of the war on terror. If there is a war on terror, do you want a fair trial or do you want to be safe? I am going to make you safe by not giving defendants accused of terrorism, who some liberal-pinko-commie judge would set free, a fair trial.

Making you safe by enveloping you in a police state is a nonpartisan undertaking. Just listen to Lindsay Graham and Peter King and John McCain. These Republican leaders are demanding the police state that I am providing.

As my own legal department, The US Department Of Justice, decided, the Dictator, I mean, elected president, has the power to save the country from domestic and foreign terrorists by abrogating the US Constitution, an out-of-date document that binds our hands and prevents us from keeping you, our serfs and minions, I mean our cherished citizens, safe.

Trust me. That is your obligation as a US citizen. Trust me and I will make you free, happy, employed sometime later in this century when the Amerikan Empire controls the world.

The US Constitution was written by people who opposed Empire. These people were misguided, just like the Roman Republicans who did not understand the need for a Caesar. The American Empire, as the neoconservatives have made clear, is what keeps you free from terrorism. We have to kill them over there before they come over here. And those who are over here will be killed too. We tolerate no dissent. That part of the Constitution is gone, along with the rest of it.

Now give me my honorary doctorate, another sign of approval of my usurpation.


Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal. He was columnist for Business Week, Scripps Howard News Service, and Creators Syndicate. He has had many university appointments. His internet columns have attracted a worldwide following. His latest book, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of the West is now available.

May 13, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism, Progressive Hypocrite, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Asking Amnesty International to Oppose War

By David Swanson | War Is A Crime | May 7, 2013

Some human rights groups, especially Amnesty International, seem to have forgotten an important human right: peace.  A petition has been launched to remind them.

These organizations are not the warmongers. They do tremendously great work addressing some of the symptoms of warmaking, including imprisonment and torture.  But, because they avoid taking any position on war, and because of an apparent bias in favor of U.S. military intervention, they sometimes find themselves effectively promoting war and all the horrors that come with it.  At Nuremberg to initiate a war of aggression was called the supreme international crime “encompassing the evil of the whole.”  Yet human rights groups are often on the wrong side of the fundamental question of war.

Amnesty International (AI) promoted the babies-taken-from-incubators hoax that helped launch the 1991 war on Iraq.  AI has upheld the pretense that the US/NATO occupation of Afghanistan is about women’s rights.  And now Amnesty International is highlighting warmaking in Syria’s civil war by one side only:

“Our team of researchers on the ground found evidence that government forces bombed entire neighborhoods and targeted residential areas with long-range surface-to-surface missiles,” said an AI fundraising email on April 29th that made no mention of abuses committed by Syrian rebels supported by the U.S. and its allies.

This one-sided treatment by a group supposedly dedicated to all humans fuels the fires of a wider war from which the people of Syria can only suffer.

The email continued: “Amnesty has a strong track record of using our on-the-ground findings to pressure governments and the United Nations Security Council to hold those responsible for the slaughter of civilians accountable.”

Does it?  When the United States kills civilians in Iraq or Afghanistan or Libya, AI’s silence has often been deafening.  Shouldn’t a human rights group press for an end to the killing of all humans by all parties?

While many good individuals who work for human rights groups like AI oppose wars, these organizations officially ignore President Eisenhower’s warning and a half-century of evidence regarding the power of the military industrial complex — and they ignore the criminality of war under the U.S. Constitution, the U.N. Charter, the Kellogg-Briand Pact and other laws.

These groups accept the existence of war (when not encouraging it) and then focus on specific crimes and abuses within the larger war-making enterprise. They promote the idea that human rights are governed by two sets of laws, one in peace and another weaker set in war. Voices for the human right to peace are missing and badly needed, as “humanitarianism” and “the right to protect” are used as excuses for war and intervention.

Amnesty International opposes imprisonment without trial and other abuses unless they adhere to the “laws of war,” which is why AI is not opposing the outrageous charges leveled against Bradley Manning. Killing is opposed unless it adheres to the “laws of war.”  Under this standard, we pretend not to know whether blowing families up with drones is legal or not as long as the memos purporting to legalize it are kept hidden.

Groups like Amnesty oppose particular weapons, including the development of fully autonomous weapons (drones that fly themselves).  No one in their right mind would oppose that step.  But surely the human right not to be blown up does not vanish if the button is pushed by a person instead of an autonomous robot.  Other organizations are pushing to ban all weaponized drones from the world.

Human rights groups should join the peace movement in targeting war and militarism itself, rather than just some of its symptoms.  Amnesty International and all groups favoring human rights should be asked to oppose a U.S. escalation of war on Syria.

May 13, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism, War Crimes | , , , , , | 1 Comment

The EU: Israel’s Faithful Brother in Arms

By Bruno Jäntti | Al-Akhbar | May 13, 2013

During Israel’s latest onslaught against the Gaza Strip in November 2012, a major conference was held in Tel Aviv: the 2nd Israel HLS International Conference. Among the most prominent sponsors of the homeland security event were two of Israel’s largest weapons companies, Elbit Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), both of which cooperate closely with the Israeli military. But the conference also had another grandiosely advertised partner: the European Commission.

As is often the case, this undisguised cooperation between the EU and Israeli military companies went fully unchallenged – let alone noticed – in the European media. Not even the rather conspicuous fact that the EU-sponsored conference occurred simultaneously with Israel’s devastating Gaza assault in which Israel used the equipment of both Elbit and IAI.

The same inability, or unwillingness, by the European media to report such collaboration, let alone deplore it, manifested itself even more prominently in January 2009. A day after Israel’s 22-day long assault on the Gaza Strip, the leaders of six European states, including the UK, France, and Italy, arrived in Israel for a gala dinner, voicing their support for Israel. The dinner was hosted by Israel’s then-prime minister Ehud Olmert. The European leaders vowed, of all things, to stop the flow of arms to Hamas. Meanwhile, the Israeli strikes on Gaza would kill 926 civilians.

As a trading and co-sponsoring partner, Elbit is among the most disagreeable of all the Israeli military companies. Being at the very core of Israel’s breaches of international law, Elbit is deeply involved in Israel’s drone programs that have targeted and killed scores of civilians, including children. The former president and chief executive of Elbit proclaimed that the company is “the backbone” of Israel’s drone operations. Elbit also provides surveillance equipment to the illegal wall Israel has built in the West Bank. Besides being an instrumental partner of the Israeli air force, it also sells equipment to the Israeli navy.

The EU also funnels funds to Elbit through allocating EU-taxpayers’ money to the company under the umbrella of scientific research. Indeed, another barely publicized yet lucrative form of EU-Israeli cooperation that directly benefits Israel’s private military sector are scientific research subsidies. David Cronin, who has put together a pioneering compendium on the EU’s complicity in Israel’s illegalities, estimates that by the year 2013, Israel will have received EU research grants for more than €500 million. Israel currently takes part in over 800 schemes with European universities and corporations.

The massive EU-Israel bilateral trade remains one of the least talked about, yet among the most crucial enablers of Israel’s ever-continuing breaches of international law.

The EU is Israel’s main trading partner with a total annual trade of approximately €30 billion (€29.7 billion in 2012). The volume of the trade is more than ten times that of the US foreign aid to Israel. While it is reasonable to assume that US-Israeli relations will remain intact in the coming years, the EU has the required economical leverage and legal means to exert unprecedented pressure on Israel, compelling it to abide by international law.

According to a 2003 European Commission poll, 60 percent of the EU citizenry sees Israel as the greatest threat to world peace. In this respect, European public opinion is more informed than that in the US. Another factor that makes it feasible for EU to alter its policy towards Israel is that the EU-Israel Association Agreement that governs all trade and cooperation between the EU and Israel states that “[r]elations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles.”

Hence, whereas a drastic shift in the US-Israeli relations remains an unlikely scenario, the EU has both the informed public opinion required for, and a no-brainer legal case demanding, relatively swift and highly momentous changes.

As of now, however, the EU is both a major client for Israel’s occupation-powered, export-oriented and multi-billion military manufacturing and homeland security sector as well as a major exporter of military equipment to Israel.

Besides the military and homeland security imports from Israel, the EU also continues to violate its own regulations on arms exports. The EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports states that the EU is “DETERMINED [sic] to prevent the export of equipment which might be used for internal repression or international aggression or contribute to regional instability.”

How determined exactly has the EU been in its adherence to this provision? Based on the criteria set out by the EU in the above regulation, Israel is an illegitimate country for arms exports. After all, in addition to violating a whole list of UN resolutions, Israel has been and remains exceptionally committed to violating international law.

Although Israel is an invalid trading partner according to the EU Code of Conduct regulations, the value of licenses granted by the EU over the past decade for arms exports to Israel amounts to billions of Euros.

Whereas 18 of 27 EU member states export military equipment to Israel, the bulk of the total EU exports originate from the major EU states: Italy, France, Germany and the UK, according to Amnesty International’s “Fuelling conflict: Foreign arms supplies to Israel/Gaza.”

In terms of violating EU arms exports regulations, Italy has the most abominable track record. Italy’s biggest defense contractor, Finmeccanica, announced in July 2012, that it had won and signed a $1 billion (€752 million) deal with Israel. Finmeccanica will provide training jets to the Israeli air force, which repeatedly carries out egregious attacks against Palestinian and Lebanese civilians and infrastructure.

Out of the total €752 million deal, the most sizable part belongs to Finmeccanica’s subsidiary Alenia Aermacchi which provides 30 M-346 advanced trainer aircraft to the Israeli air force. It is reported that the Italian government played a major role in brokering the contract.

Another EU member state that carries out large-scale military trade with Israel is France. Between 2003 and 2008, France exported more than €521 million worth of weaponry to Israel.

An Amnesty International report from February 2009 revealed that electrical components made in France were found in the rubble of buildings destroyed by the Israeli military during the 2008-2009 Gaza massacre. The components were installed in Hellfire AGM missiles manufactured by the US company Hellfire Systems, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. France also exported specialized equipment for reconnaissance, such as laser systems, to Israel.

Another major arms exporter to Israel is Germany. Germany sold major conventional weaponry to Israel for more than €580 million between 1996 and 2000, including Dolphin Class Submarines, which are assumed to be capable of launching nuclear warheads. In 2000 alone, German weapons trade with Israel was worth more than €130 million. Germany exported torpedoes, armored cars, and parts for the Israeli Merkava tanks used in occupied Palestine.

The UK also exports considerable amounts of military equipment to Israel. In 2009, after Israel had destroyed the Gaza Strip, the UK authorities granted export licenses for electronic warfare equipment, naval radars, and sniper rifles to Israel. In 2009, the then-Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary David Miliband revealed that the Israeli equipment used in Israel’s murderous and destructive assault against Gaza “almost certainly” contained components that had been delivered by the UK.

In recent years, the UK government has annually licensed arms exports directly to Israel for between €12 million and €36 million. In 2008, UK authorities granted military export licenses for more than €34 million.

Besides these major European powers, one state enjoys exceptional clout as a strict adherent to international law, but has excelled at conducting arms trade with Israel, namely Finland. The total value of the Finnish-Israeli arms trade is €200 million.

In addition to the fact the Finland has conducted more military trade with Israel than a number of much bigger EU member states, what sets Finland apart from all the other arms trading partners of Israel is the severity of domestic criticism the trade has elicited.

A petition signed by more than 250 Finnish dignitaries from the arts, academia, and politics is a telling indicator of the wave of criticism arising from the military trade between Israel and Finland. Among those calling for an immediate discontinuation of all forms of military trade with Israel are the foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja and world-renowned expert on international law Martti Koskenniemi.

It merits emphasis that the continuation and, often the mere existence, of the trade has arguably had no support in the Finnish mainstream media.

As the 2003 European Commission poll already revealed, the ever-continuing business-as-usual attitude by the EU to Israel’s actions fully contradicts union public opinion. The freezing of the EU-Israel Association Agreement and the seizing of all weapons exports from the EU to Israel – both actions required by EU provisions – could force Israel to finally recognize and respect the rights of the Palestinians.

May 13, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Solidarity and Activism, War Crimes | , , , , | Comments Off on The EU: Israel’s Faithful Brother in Arms

Genocide in Guatemala: The Conviction of Efrain Rios Montt

By Binoy Kampmark | Dissident Voice | May 13, 2013

It has been hailed as the first conviction for genocide of a former head of state in his own country, and certainly the first of a former Latin American strongman. Former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt was convicted by a Guatemalan court on Friday for his participation in crimes against the Mayans during his rule in 1982 and 1983.  His sentences were steep: 50 years for genocide and 30 for crimes against humanity.

As ever with genocide, evidence of an intentioned plan to destroy a race had to be shown.  The three-judge panel led by Yassmin Barrios was satisfied that the definition had been made out, finding that there had been a clear and systematic plan to exterminate the Ixil people.  Prosecutors allege that up to 1,700 of the Ixil Maya were killed, in addition to torture, rape and the destruction of villages.  The acts had occurred as part of a policy of clearing the countryside of Marxist guerrillas and sympathisers.

The heart of the defence by Rios Montt was that, as a political leader, he could not be held accountable for military matters conducted in a rural province some few hours northwest of the Guatemalan capital.  “I never authorised it, I never signed, I never proposed, I never ordered that race, ethnicity or religion to be attacked.  I never did it!”   In this, he was echoing the sentiments of the Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita, who was found constructively guilty for having not stopped the massacres that took place in the Philippines.

Yamashita did have a point, and one picked up by the dissenting judges of the U.S. Supreme Court.  To hold such a figure to account in circumstances of military emergency, when contact lines were severed, and the army was fighting for its survival, was a tall order.  There was little evidence that those troops had acted under his orders.  But Rios Montt could hardly claim to have been Yamashita and, according to the judges, “was aware of everything that was happening, and did not stop it, despite having the power to stop it.”

The trial proved a thorough affair, featuring extensive use of forensics, the examination of mass graves and the DNA of skeletons therein.  It was grim but important work, and constituted but a small part of what was a civil war of mass murder.  Between 1960 and 1996, Guatemala saw conflict that claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people.   Prior to that, a U.S.-sponsored overthrow of the democratically elected Jacobo Arbenz Guzman ensured that the country would be doomed to decades of bloody instability.

It is often argued that trials do not provide a means of genuine restorative healing to parties or societies. Rios Montt will not be seen as a criminal by conservatives who feel he performed a sterling job in ensuring that the country did not fall into the clutches of left wing revolutionaries.  The Cold War subtext here was that he was, if anything, heroic in holding the fort.

Besides, the current Guatemalan president, Otto Perez Molina, refuses to accept that genocide ever took place.  This may not be surprising given that Molina’s name came up in trial testimony, in which a former soldier claimed he had ordered executions while serving in the military of the Rios Montt regime.   “When I say that Guatemala has seen no genocide, I repeat it now after this ruling.  Today’s ruling is not final… the decision will not be final until the moment they run out of appeals.”

There will also be consternation that the atrocities of the government, rather than those of the rebels, have featured prominently.  That the former feature, however, is due to the sheer disproportionate role played by the rulers and paramilitary allies.  The 1999 report by the country’s truth and reconciliation commission claimed that the government’s role in the atrocities, along with its allies, was a hefty 93 per cent.

The soiled hands of this incident are many.  They did not start or stop with Rios Montt.  Will the individuals who also cast money and material the way of such regimes be held to account?  A case against the higher-ups, and those complicit beyond the borders of the country may well be in the offing, though that will take time.  The edifice of accountability is gradually being built.  International law, as ever, takes steps not so much in strides as in awkward stumbles, but when it does reach important junctions, effects are felt.  What happens with the appeal will be telling.

Binoy Kampmark can be reached at:

May 13, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, War Crimes | , , , , | Comments Off on Genocide in Guatemala: The Conviction of Efrain Rios Montt

Why is Obama Hiding 6,000-Page Report on Bush-Era Torture and Why is Torture Still Allowed?

By Matt Bewig | AllGov | May 13, 2013

President Barack Obama is currently blocking the release—or allowing the CIA to block the release—of a comprehensive Senate report on the use of torture by the George W. Bush administration CIA that is said to conclude that torture was not an effective or reliable method of interrogation and that the agency repeatedly misled the White House, the Justice Department, and Congress about its interrogation efforts.

Initiated by Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) and continued by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) when she succeeded him in 2009, the Senate torture probe entailed about six years of work and the review of 6 million pages of documents. In December 2012, the committee voted out the report on a mostly party line vote. Since that time, the report has been stuck in limbo at the CIA, with Director John Brennan refusing to state when his review will be complete, and reports indicating that the agency intends to write a rebuttal and oppose public release of the report.

Although the report validates anti-torture positions taken by Democrats, including President Obama, during the Bush years, Obama may be delaying its release over concerns about shedding negative light on his own, related, anti-terror policies that offend human rights, such as the continued use of torture at Guantánamo Bay or the predator drone assassination program. Further, the deep involvement of Obama’s hand-picked CIA Director, John Brennan, in the Bush-era torture and kidnapping programs may call Obama’s judgment about Brennan into question.

On the issue of torture at Guantánamo, the Obama White House claimed in 2009 that the President had canceled all Bush-era legal memos purporting to justify the use of “enhanced interrogation” techniques not authorized by the Army Field Manual. The President did not, however, cancel an April 13, 2006, memo regarding the 2006 revision of the Army Field Manual and its controversial Appendix M on interrogation. That memo justifies the use of isolation, sleep deprivation, and forms of sensory deprivation that have been denounced as torture or abuse by a number of human rights and legal groups—and which sparked the ongoing hunger strike at Guantánamo.

Obama may be concerned about the impact release of the report might have on his predator drone targeted assassination program. In 2009, the Obama administration successfully persuaded the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York to overrule a trial judge’s ruling ordering release of a September 17, 2001, presidential directive that established a wide range of anti-terror efforts, including the use of torture. Why Obama went to such great lengths to keep the directive secret may have been revealed by the appeals court opinion, which stated that “the withheld information pertains to intelligence activities unrelated to the discontinued [torture] program,” including targeted killings of suspected al-Qaeda operatives.

May 13, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Progressive Hypocrite, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Why is Obama Hiding 6,000-Page Report on Bush-Era Torture and Why is Torture Still Allowed?

Jerusalem Day: Marching Over History

Photo blog by Dylan Collins | Al-Akhbar | May 13, 2013

On Wednesday, 8 May 2013, Israel held its annual Jerusalem Day celebration, commemorating its annexation of East Jerusalem and the Old City during the 1967 Six-Day War.

Israeli settlers marched through East Jerusalem neighborhoods carrying Israeli flags and singing, celebrating and asserting their control of what is internationally recognized as the capital of any viable future Palestinian state.

Settlers marching in and out of the Damascus Gate, located directly alongside the largest Palestinian shopping center in the city, were met with a pro-Palestine counter-demonstration.

Hundreds of Israeli police were on the scene to put down the Palestinian counter-demonstration. Israeli police detained upwards of 18 individuals and beat dozens of others. Among the detainees were minors as well as several photographers.

(All photos by Dylan Collins)

May 13, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mideast Backlashes Yet to Come

By Sharmine Narwani – Al-Akhbar – 2013-05-13

The Middle East is treading water these days. Two years of rhetoric about ousting dictators, revolution, freedom, honor, dignity, and democracy – without result – has people on edge, their disillusionment now demanding an outlet.

There are no outlets though. Sensing the fast-growing disenchantment with undelivered promises, even the “bright new leaders” are tightening the reins and demanding compliance.

These new heads of state simply can’t deliver the goods for one main reason: they are just as caught up in global and regional power contests as were their predecessors. Nothing has changed with these uprisings – nothing.

Except now the stakes are higher than before. A recession-bound West, the fast-rising BRICS and their respective regional allies are locked in a competition to consolidate power and influence in this important region before it finds its bearings.

The relatively new influencers on the Arab scene like Qatar and Turkey have recognized this as a unique opportunity to slip into region-wide leadership roles. For the entrenched old hands – Washington, Riyadh, Paris, London – a race is on to prevent the region from shrugging off their decades-long dominance and embracing the anti-imperialism of the Resistance Axis.

The result has been an onslaught of interventions. Every tool in the arsenal has come out to play. Money, espionage, propaganda, weapons, assassination and that old colonial trick: divide-and-rule.

The main game is still the old battle of the blocs, Iran versus the United States, with everyone else filing in line behind their team. There have been a few surprises thrown into the mix: the newcomers like Turkey and Qatar have moved over to the US side; the BRICS, however, have lent their considerable clout to team Iran. Iraq has moved behind the latter formation and Hamas still doesn’t know where to stand so it straddles the two.

This is not a game for the faint-hearted, and it permeates every major social, economic, and political decision in the region today. Want a new electrical plant outside Cairo, Beirut, or Kirkuk? Good luck choosing a national supplier who doesn’t offend. IMF loan? Allowing over-flights or passage for ships? Inking a trade deal? Formulating a new constitution? Scheduling a football match?

Mideast states are now paralyzed and polarized over such things, and governance has come to a standstill. But in this paralysis lies a dangerous volatility: a backlash in the brewing, a pressure cooker about to blow.

The Backlash Against Neo-Islamists

After decades of oppression and marginalization by pro-West, secular dictatorships, the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) and similar Islamist parties have catapulted to power and prominence in several states. Quite counter-intuitively, however, these Islamist governments appear to have lined up behind the US bloc, eager to please, or at least placate, the very powers that colluded in their oppression.

It is an unnatural marriage, and the longer this union endures, the more estranged Islamist parties will become from their domestic constituencies – in much the same way as their autocratic predecessors.

There is volatility in this balancing act between the two blocs, as groups like Hamas have come to discover. But for the new Islamist powerhouses in “post-revolution” states, yet another volatile contest is being played out to their detriment, this time on an entirely regional level: Qatar versus Saudi Arabia – or Sunni versus Sunni.

For years the Ikhwanists have been backed by the Qatari arrivistes, who are a thorn in the side of the other, larger Wahhabi state in the Arab world, Saudi Arabia. The Saudis, for their own part, are throwing dollars and clout behind Salafists in all the countries where they intend to counter the influence of the Ikhwan and similar parties.

But Qatar and Saudi Arabia are now aggressively exporting their very personal competition to other Arab states – Libya, Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Palestine – creating what I believe will evolve into a ferocious backlash among local populations, even as they reap the rewards of direct financial investment from these two Gulf states.

This competition has drawn in others like the UAE, Jordan, and Kuwait, appalled at the Qatari push to Ikhwanize the region. And it has turned the Arab League positively cannibalistic, devouring the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states like Libya, Syria, and Palestine that it once pledged to protect.

Qatar finds support from AKP-led Turkey in this fight, but the two are a cause for concern in the United States, which secretly suspects that Ikhwanists are harder to control than Saudi-backed Salafists. Much of this fear is because that lynchpin of all US foreign policy calculations, the state of Israel, borders Ikhwan-heavy Egypt, Gaza, and Jordan – none of which have yet sufficiently proven their loyalty to the idea of Israel’s regional hegemony.

But the biggest victim of the Saudi-Qatari competition to influence the direction of political Sunnism is likely to be political Islam itself.

The rise of political Islam – once an inevitable byproduct of democratization – arrived too hard, too fast; too aggressively championed, organized, and weaponized by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Now, not only have the mentors lost credibility and support, but so have many of their political protégés in Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, and Palestine.

Volatility? We haven’t even started.

What yesterday’s global powerbrokers seek from the incoming class of political Islamists is the maintenance of the status quo, including, among other things, embracing Israel and rejecting Iran. But an open pledge of allegiance to Israel is impossible for the Ikhwan and similar parties – their very legitimacy comes in part from denouncing the legitimacy of the Zionist experiment in Palestine.

Nothing tested their limits as dangerously as last November’s eight days of rocket-volley between Gaza and Israel. Each passing day drove home the fact that, despite their standard rhetoric to domestic and regional constituencies, Islamist heads of state in Turkey, Egypt, and Qatar were rendered paralyzed – and mute – as the Israeli army pounded Gaza.

Instead, it was firepower, training and strategic planning by Iran, Hezbollah, and Syria that propped up defiant Palestinians through those dark hours. The unexpected arsenal of rockets that countered Israeli aggression came from Hamas’ Qassam Brigades, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and other smaller resistance groups, who became the heroes of that conflict.

Not one missile, bullet, or slogan came from the three new Qatari, Turkish, and Egyptian “Sunni kings” vying for power on the coattails of the Arab uprisings.

Had the battle gone on for another week or two, the entire Middle East might have been reconfigured in its aftermath. Never have the Israelis so quickly signed a ceasefire agreement.

The global battle of the blocs and the inter-regional Sunni power struggle crossed paths in that Gaza battle. In it, the US bloc and political Islam exposed their vulnerabilities. Both groups are currently upholding – against a tidal wave of popular sentiment – systems, values, and institutions that were supposed to be swept away by honor-and-dignity revolts. Any incident that highlights this fact can serve as a springboard for a backlash against the interests of the West and its Islamist allies in the region.

The Backlash Against Sectarianism

Shia versus Sunni. Christianity versus Islam. Vilifying the “other” is common in conflict, especially when there exists some historic animosity or tension between sects, nationalities, and communities.

But since the onset of the Arab uprisings there has been a concerted effort to escalate the Shia-Sunni divide and link it wholesale to an Iranian-Arab one.

With the loss of its dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, Washington wasted no time in formulating a divide-and-rule strategy to preserve its regional interests. The US military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) for the Middle East jump-started the task by initiating a secret exercise to divide Arabs and Iranians in March 2011.

Gulf-backed media channels dove headfirst into exaggerating the threat from Iran, while hardline clerics issued increasingly belligerent fatwas against the Shia. Against this backdrop, Shia civilians began to be targeted with violence throughout the region – with very little outcry or objection from the international community, so successfully have they been conflated with a “threatening” Iran and Hezbollah.

But as Christians began to be targeted, assaulted, and killed in Egypt and Syria, the issue of sectarianism exploded beyond the old, more common storylines, and has made avoidance of this subject impossible.

Dragging the sordid issue of sectarianism – which is invariably accompanied by extremism – into the light has had an interesting effect on regional discourse: most Arabs don’t want to be part of it in much the same way they rejected al-Qaeda a decade ago.

A recent Pew Research Center poll of Muslims worldwide reveals, among other things, that 85 percent of Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa view religious freedom for people of other faiths to be “a good thing.” A majority of Muslims are “somewhat or very concerned” about Islamic religious extremism, while a minority of Muslims view Shia-Sunni tensions to be a problem at all. The poll indicates that religious strife remains a major cause for concern among Muslims in many MENA states, and that perceived hostilities between Muslims and Christians are on the high side in Egypt, but low in Lebanon, another country that has experienced these hostilities.

But even as sectarian tensions flare in various countries, the headlines do not tell the whole story. Many Arabs are rejecting these divisions, some of which is attributable to the shocking new level of violence now associated with sectarianism:

From Egypt to Kuwait, Bahrain to Syria, young Arabs are hearing – many for the first time – about women being raped because of their sect; about the cutting of heads, the hacking of limbs, the burning of bodies. This is not yesterday’s segregation of sects; this is the stuff of horror movies and genocidal sprees.

The backlash here has already begun. As violent sectarianism rises, so too does the realization that there is another discourse on the rise besides Shia versus Sunni or Muslim versus Christian.

Simply put, there is a new paradigm forming in the region that didn’t exist when it was just Iraq suffering the consequences of violent sectarian carnage: Today, throughout the Middle East, “sectarian” Shia, Sunni, Muslims, and Christians are increasingly facing down “anti-sectarian” Shia, Sunni, Muslims, and Christians. The re-framing of this issue is crucial in undermining sectarian strife. It offers millions an alternative communal identity to the one that always forces them to “defend sect first.”

Interestingly, one communal identity they are tending to embrace is a national identity, i.e., “I am Bahraini, not Shia or Sunni.”

In Bahrain, despite efforts to paint a two-year popular uprising as an “Iranian project” pitting the majority Shia population against a minority Sunni government, Bahrainis hoist their national flag at every opportunity to defy the negative sectarian characterizations of their “national” democratization project.

In Lebanon, where sectarianism is boiling in reaction to events in neighboring Syria, each incident has so far been thwarted by inter-sect efforts on a national level, and a growing desire among the population to empower the “national” army.

In Syria, widespread revulsion against what has to be the most violent manifestation of sectarianism in the region has morphed into a new language to define the conflict there: Instead of being pro or anti-government/opposition, many Syrians are now underlining their allegiance to Syria first. Despite the international media’s partiality toward framing the Syrian conflict as a sectarian one, many pro-government and pro-opposition figures tend to reject this characterization outright. This is certainly notable among pro-government Syrians, many of whom have undergone a hasty conversion from political apathy to intense nationalism in a short time, and who reject being defined as “pro-Assad.”

“It is too limiting,” says one staunchly secular Syrian about that definition. “This is about my country and keeping it whole – it is not about a person or a government,” says another, an observant Sunni who backs her national army’s efforts to weed out mostly Islamist rebels.

The irony is that the very “sectarianism” encouraged by competing Islamists and their allies in pursuit of political objectives in the region may have spawned the backlash to hasten their demise. Nationalism has long been the enemy of political Islam in the Middle East, and nationalism can once more bury it.

Throughout the Arab world, minority sects and non-sectarian groups are being thrust together to protect against the more zealous elements of political Islam, giving form to important civil coalitions that will form the backbone of new grassroots opposition movements in these countries – previously a position held almost exclusively by Islamists.

The backlashes are here, now. They will target all the interventionists clinging on to the status quo, and those keeping progress at bay. They may grow incrementally and tentatively – or they may explode onto a national or regional stage one fine day. “More of the same” will only hasten their arrival.

And it’s okay. These “backlashes” will be the revolutions you thought we already had.

Sharmine Narwani is a commentary writer and political analyst covering the Middle East. You can follow Sharmine on twitter @snarwani.


May 13, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Solidarity and Activism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Mideast Backlashes Yet to Come